Loopr review – Live Loop Composer from Tristan Zand

Download from iTunes App Storeloopr logoCreating live performances using loops recorded on the fly is quite an art form but you only have to witness a well-honed performance by a beatboxer or solo musician to realise the creative possibilities. Essentially, this involves recording loops as you go, playing back a first loop while you overdub a second, third or fourth (and so on) and then dropping loops in and out of the mix to build up your performance.

There is dedicated hardware available for doing this (Boss and Digitech make suitable examples) but there are also quite a number of ‘looper’ apps on the iTunes App Store. Tristian Zand’s Loopr Live Loop Composer app has been around on the App Store for over a year but he recently contacted the blog and asked if we would be interested in taking a look… so here goes….

Loopr basics

Like most looper-type apps, Loopr provides an environment where you can record loops, overdub new loops and then mix and match the playback of those loops in real-time to create a performance. While the obvious application of this is in a live performance context, the concept is also a very creative one when used for song creation or in the studio as all sorts of interesting ideas can pop out as you just allow yourself to experiment and improvise.

loopr main screen

Loopr’s main interface. The app is designed for use on the iPhone but scales up nicely on the iPad as shown here.

Loopr’s interface is a quite quirky in appearance. The upper portion of the screen is where you manage the loops within the current session and can select a loop slot for recording, mute and adjust the volume of loops. In the lower portion of the screen you can trigger playback of the session, adjust the input/output volume, trigger loop recording and set the time signature, etc.

A Loopr session can contain up to 64 individual loops (16 on older iOS devices) and these are organised into 4 ‘phrases’ of 16 loops. In Loopr terminology, a phrase can be thought of as a song section and you can switch between these song sections (phrases) during a performance. In essence, what a session allows you to create is four different song sections, each of which can have up to 16 loop layers within it. This ought to be more than enough for even the most adventurous of loopers. However, it is worth repeating; because you can so easily switch between these phrases (or song sections or loop banks or whatever you want to call them), it does make it very easy to create a more song-like performance structure. In a live context, I can imagine this would be very useful.

Loopr also provides MIDI support. It can send MIDI sync data to, for example, a drum machine if you want to use that in a live performance setting. Equally, many of its functions can be controlled from a MIDI pedalboard if you have one suitably hooked up to your iDevice, giving you hands-free control of the app.

Sessions can be saved, recalled and exported.

Sessions can be saved, recalled and exported.

Sessions can be saved for later recall and, while the app doesn’t provide support for Audiobus or IAA, it is CoreMIDI and CoreAudio compatible and does include a fairly straightforward export option so, if your loop-based improvisations throw up some cool ideas, you can move them elsewhere for further development.

In the Loopr

As a format for music creation, looping does take some practice so you shouldn’t expect to get instant gratification with any looper-type app. However, at a basic level – once you have got your head around how Loopr orgainses its sessions – operation of the app is very straightforward. Once you have recorded your first loop (which can be a bit hit and miss with any looper as you have to get the timing right), Loopz then uses that to calculate the tempo and your next loop will be recorded in sync, with recording starting and stopping automatically. Aside from controlling where the next loop is to be recorded, that’s pretty much all there is to the process; get your first loop right and then build from there.

While the app’s interface has a kind of industrial, ‘hand built in my shed’ sort of graphical design, it’s generally pretty easy to navigate. However, it is worth reading the tutorial material available from the help menu (accessed via the ? button located bottom right) and consulting the additional materials on the app’s website. Between them, these explain some of the key concepts that you need to find your way around and work out your own personal workflow.

As mentioned earlier, a session can consist of up to 64 loops and these are organised into 4 ‘phrases’ of 16 loops. Switching between the four phrases (or song sections) is easy as you use the + and – buttons located on the large orange loop graphic in the bottom half of the display. The 16 loops within each phrase are, in turn, organised into 4 banks of 4 loops. Only one of these banks of 4 is visable in the top half of the display at any one time and to move between banks, you have to swipe on the vertical ‘metal’ bar on the upper right-edge of the display.

Accessing the further sets of loops within each phrase requires swiping on the metal strip graphic to the right of the display.

Accessing the further sets of loops within each phrase requires swiping on the metal strip graphic to the right of the display.

This is perhaps the one element of the interface that I found a little limiting as it meant that to toggle a loop on/off in one of the other banks of 4 required swiping through to that bank first. This works well enough and you soon get used to it but it does mean more finger work to think about rather than just a single stop/start press for each of your 16 loops. I did wonder whether there couldn’t be another display option added that simply flipped you to a second screen that did away with the bulk of the controls and simply provided 16 buttons to trigger each of the loops on/off and the large ‘loop’ graphic with its + and – buttons for switching between phrases. Once you had recorded all your loops for a session, this might be easier to manage in a live performance context.

My only other comment would be to ask for a little more by way of information for configuring an external MIDI pedalboard to control Loopr. There are some excellent YouTube videos available through the app’s website that show this in action and, for experienced loopers, this would certainly be the way to go in live use. However, as a newbie user, it took me quite a bit of experimentation to actually get the app to respond to MIDI in data.

In summary

Once you get into the Loopr way of working, the app is a lot of fun to use and, in my testing on an iPad 3rd gen., it behaved very well indeed. I used it with an iRig PRO interface and had no problems getting good quality audio into and out of the app.

The app includes a help feature that is well worth a read before you get started.

The app includes a help feature that is well worth a read before you get started.

The app is certainly very capable and, while the slightly quirky interface requires a little time to find your way around (read the documentation a couple of times; it does help), the ‘phrase’ feature is a very neat idea, opening up the ability to switch between 4 different loop sets (which could easily represent 4 different ‘song’ sections) in real-time and in sync.

Loopr makes for an interesting comparison with other looper apps. My current ‘go to’ app for this application is A Tasty Pixel’s Loopy HD. This is more expensive than Loopr (UK£5.49 as opposed to UK£0.69, although neither is going to break too many banks).Loopy HD’s interface is perhaps more minimalist and streamlined and the app does feature Audiobus support. However, Loopy HD sessions can only contain a maximum of 12 loops and don’t have that rather clever ‘phrase’ feature.

Given the pricing of both apps, then I suspect most people won’t actually have to make a choice; they’ll just buy both if they are interested in experimenting with looper-style composition and performance on their iPhone or iPad. And at UK0.69, Loopr is a budget-priced bargain that is well worth a punt even if only to experiment with. This is a very capable – if slightly quirky – looper app at a pocket money price.

Loopr Live Loop Composer

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